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March retail surges 8.2% amid stockpiling

Retail trade has surged by a monthly record of 8.2 per cent in March as consumers stockpiled groceries and office supplies in anticipation of coronavirus lockdown measures

Shoppers frantically buying food staples and office goods drove March retail turnover up to $30.04 billion, according to preliminary seasonally adjusted figures released on Wednesday.

Monthly turnover doubled for products such as toilet and tissue paper, flour, rice and pasta between February and March, while turnover for canned food, medicinal products and cleaning goods increased by more than 50 per cent.

Strength was also seen in other non-food sub-groups, for example, in electrical and hardware, where business reported an increase in sales of items related to the set-up of home offices.

The ABS said this is the strongest seasonally adjusted monthly rise ever published in the Retail Trade publication, surpassing an increase of 8.1 per cent in June 2000 when households brought forward expenditure ahead of the GST implementation.

Retail trade had risen by 0.5 per cent in February to $27.8 billion as shoppers began stocking their pantries to weather the COVID-19 storm.

A 23.5 per cent increase in the food retailing industry drove the March surge with supermarkets and grocery stores, liquor retailing, and other specialised food retailing all recording increases in demand.

The ABS said analysis of supermarket and grocery store scanner data showed monthly turnover for perishable groceries and all other groceries increased in original terms by 21.6 per cent and 35.6 per cent respectively since February.

The rise in supermarket retail turnover reached a peak in mid-March before levelling off at the end of the month.

There was however weakness in cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services, as well as clothing, footwear and personal accessory retailing and department stores.

These industries recorded strong falls in turnover as a number of factors, including regulations regarding social distancing measures, limited the ability of businesses to trade as normal.

The Australia dollar edged up to 62.94 US cents after the 1130 AEST release of the data.

Originally published as March retail surges 8.2% amid stockpiling

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